History of the Tea Ceremony



Centuries before green tea was brought from China to Japan it was known to Chinese scholars for its medicinal properties, and was popular amongst emperors, noblemen and courtesans for its enjoyable flavor and stimulating effects.  Much of the social life of ancient Chinese nobility revolved around the partaking of green tea at lavish parties in opulent settings. 

The cultivation of green tea in Japan is said to have begun during the Heian Period (794-1185) in Uji, near the royal capital of Kyoto, with seeds obtained in China by the Zen priest Eisai (1141-1215.)  To this day, tea grown in Uji is considered to be the best tea produced in Japan, although today Shizuoka prefecture is the largest tea growing region in the country. 

While tea was important to the shoguns and samurai of the Middle Ages, it was not until the Muromachi period (1392-1573) that the Tea Ceremony (chanoyu) began to take on its modern form.  The individuals who had the greatest influence on this evolution were the Zen Master Murata Juko (1422-1502) and his follower, Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591.)  These men not only stylized the tea ceremony, but incorporated the Zen principals of simplicity, self-control and honesty into its practice.  During the latter years of Sen no Rikyu’s life, the ceremonial drinking of tea occupied a place of great importance amongst the leaders of Japan, who used the occasion as a means of achieving diplomatic solutions to political conflicts.

The modern Japanese tea ceremony is not too different from what it was four hundred years ago, when matcha was imbibed from simple ceramic vessels by warriors seated in small, sparsely decorated tatami rooms.  However, today the Tea Ceremony is a portal to the spirit of hospitality and mindfulness open to all people.